(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—Today, representatives from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) briefed members of the House of Delegates' Environment and Transportation Committee on its work to draft a new fishery management plan for oysters.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) continues to have significant concerns about the plan and regulations that were put forth by the department and described at the briefing.
Among those concerns:
- The plan does not include concrete strategies to increase the oyster population.
- The department has not committed to end overfishing of oysters.
- The plan calls for changing oyster fishing regulations using 48-hour public notice, which does not provide opportunity for significant public input.
Last year, the state released its oyster stock assessment, which found the adult oyster population in the state dropped from 600 million in 1999 to 300 million in 2018. The stock assessment provided detailed information about oysters' decline in Maryland as well as areas of the Chesapeake Bay that are being overfished. The department must use this information to reduce overfishing and grow the overall oyster population in the state.
In the 2019 General Assembly session, legislators passed a bill that would have created a consensus-based process to create a new oyster fishery management plan for the state. The bill aimed to create a plan with buy-in from watermen, seafood sellers, and environmental advocates. However, it was vetoed by Gov. Larry Hogan. Instead, DNR intends to implement the deficient plan before the opening of the 2019-2020 oyster season.
Oysters are a keystone species in the Bay. Adult oysters can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day and their reefs provide habitat to crabs, fish, and other marine life. As 76 percent of oysters are in public fishery areas, responsible fishery management is critical to the future viability of the Bay's oyster population.
In response to today's briefing and the information DNR has put forth so far about the oyster fishery management plan, CBF Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost issued the following statement:
"Now is a critical moment for the oyster population in Maryland. It's time to make responsible management decisions and reverse the significant, long-term decline of oysters in the state. Unfortunately, the state's proposed plan lacks any concrete strategies or commitments to achieve a sustainable fishery and increase the population of this important ecological resource.
"We'd like to thank Del. Kumar Barve, the chairman of the committee, for holding the out-of-session briefing to provide legislators with additional information they'll need to continue to oversee the plan's drafting and implementation."
Watch the video of the briefing on the Environment and Transportation Committee website.